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LEGAL TERMS

ACTUS REUS

Latin for a 'guilty act.' The actus reus is the act which, in combination with a certain mental state, such as intent or recklessness, constitutes a crime. For ... (more...)
Latin for a 'guilty act.' The actus reus is the act which, in combination with a certain mental state, such as intent or recklessness, constitutes a crime. For example, the crime of theft requires physically taking something (the actus reus) coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the object (the mental state, or mens rea).

OWN RECOGNIZANCE (OR)

A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called 'personal recogni... (more...)
A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called 'personal recognizance.' Only those with strong ties to the community, such as a steady job, local family and no history of failing to appear in court, are good candidates for 'OR' release. If the charge is very serious, however, OR may not be an option.

CAPITAL CASE

A prosecution for murder in which the jury is also asked to decide if the defendant is guilty and, if he is, whether he should be put to death. When a prosecuto... (more...)
A prosecution for murder in which the jury is also asked to decide if the defendant is guilty and, if he is, whether he should be put to death. When a prosecutor brings a capital case (also called a death penalty case), she must charge one or more 'special circumstances' that the jury must find to be true in order to sentence the defendant to death. Each state (and the federal government) has its own list of special circumstances, but common ones include multiple murders, use of a bomb or a finding that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.

PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE

One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecu... (more...)
One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each element of the crime charged.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY (D.A.)

A lawyer who is elected to represent a state government in criminal cases in a designated county or judicial district. A D.A.'s duties typically include reviewi... (more...)
A lawyer who is elected to represent a state government in criminal cases in a designated county or judicial district. A D.A.'s duties typically include reviewing police arrest reports, deciding whether to bring criminal charges against arrested people and prosecuting criminal cases in court. The D.A. may also supervise other attorneys, called Deputy District Attorneys or Assistant District Attorneys. In some states a District Attorney may be called a Prosecuting Attorney, County Attorney or State's Attorney. In the federal system, the equivalent to the D.A. is a United States Attorney. The country has many U.S. Attorneys, each appointed by the President, who supervise regional offices staffed with prosecutors called Assistant United States Attorneys.

MOTION IN LIMINE

A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply ... (more...)
A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply the mention of the evidence would prejudice the jury against that party, even if the judge later instructed the jury to disregard the evidence. For example, if a defendant in a criminal trial were questioned and confessed to the crime without having been read his Miranda rights, his lawyer would file a motion in limine to keep evidence of the confession out of the trial.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT

The burden of proof that the prosecution must carry in a criminal trial to obtain a guilty verdict. Reasonable doubt is sometimes explained as being convinced '... (more...)
The burden of proof that the prosecution must carry in a criminal trial to obtain a guilty verdict. Reasonable doubt is sometimes explained as being convinced 'to a moral certainty.' The jury must be convinced that the defendant committed each element of the crime before returning a guilty verdict.

CRIMINAL INSANITY

A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right... (more...)
A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right from wrong. Defendants who are criminally insane cannot be convicted of a crime, since criminal conduct involves the conscious intent to do wrong -- a choice that the criminally insane cannot meaningfully make. See also irresistible impulse; McNaghten Rule.

MCNAGHTEN RULE

The earliest and most common test for criminal insanity, in which a criminal defendant is judged legally insane only if he could not distinguish right from wron... (more...)
The earliest and most common test for criminal insanity, in which a criminal defendant is judged legally insane only if he could not distinguish right from wrong at the time he committed the crime. For example, a delusional psychotic who believed that his assaultive acts were in response to the will of God would not be criminally responsible for his acts.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Martinez v. State

... See id. at 1167. The instructions given to the jury with regard to self-defense included the forcible-felony instruction, as follows: However, the use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is not justifiable if you find: 1 ...

Bevel v. State

... of Sims. The trial court found one aggravator applicable to both murder counts, namely, that the defendant was previously convicted of a capital offense or of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to some person. The ...

Lebron v. State

... During the guilt phase of the second trial, the jury found the following on special-verdict forms: (1) Lebron was guilty of first-degree felony murder; (2) Oliver was killed by someone other than Lebron; (3) Lebron did not possess a firearm during the commission of the felony ...